68-58: Progress?

Oh, like this recap was going to come before the Super Bowl. Bitch, please.

It's not a bright, shining day in Iowa City. Mainly because I'm writing this about midnight, but we're speaking in metaphors here. Ohio State dispatched the Hawkeyes, 68-58; we're still not sure how to feel about it.

On one hand, today's game could be construed as a demoralizer. The Hawkeyes were bereft of opportunities to win a game in which their opponents didn't really play very well. They had absolutely no answer for Evan Turner, and Ohio State had a demonstrably superior level of talent up and down the roster. If these two teams played 10 times, we're saying 9-10 wins for OSU.

On the other hand, there were probably lots of things Lickliter wanted the team to accomplish at which that they succeeded. They got Dallas Lauderdale in foul trouble. They didn't give OSU very many open jumpers. They shot 3s at a 40% rate. They gave the Buckeyes a 40-minute game.

And yet they still lost by 10.

So what is there to go on? Do we focus on Eric May (16 points, 4-7 3s, one steal, two dunks) continuing to assert himself as the most mansome player on the team? Do we continue to highlight Cully Payne's inconsistencies at the point (11 points on nine shots; six ghastly turnovers)? Are we more horrified at the thought that Jarryd Cole still has another year at Iowa, or at the notion of how worse off Iowa would be if he transferred*? What's to be made of Matt Gatens, who might be slowly morphing into Jake Christensen on account of having to minimize mistakes on a bad offense? And where (and when) does Anthony Tucker fit back into all of this? 

We really don't have answers to these questions. We're not sure Todd Lickliter does either. That's not a criticism of his abilities or anything like that; it's just that he gets good performances out of about two or three players a game, and he needs at least four to win. If it were easy or obvious how to correct this problem, Lickliter would have done it already. As it stands, he's done more than nothing; Eric May now has Devan Bawinkel's minutes, John Lickliter is a bandaid at the point, and previously horrific indicators like offensive rebound percentage and turnover percentage are now at merely pedestrian levels of badness.

Of course, arguments like those won't put butts back in the seats; that only comes with A) wins and B) a total fucking explosion of the current seating structure. So while we totally believe these incremental improvements are nice, positive indicators, they're still bad news for the program. Gary Barta and the athletic department have to decide how to schedule for next year's team, where wins help the program but the only teams that'll draw interested fans would probably beat the Hawkeyes. Again, we have no answer to this question.

What we do presume to know, however, is that firing Lickliter now or at the end of the season would be a bad move. Whether you believe in the team's season as being indicative of incremental improvement (we do) is up for debate; what's usually not mentioned, however, is the utterly deleterious effect a firing has on a team. It sets offensive development back  to square one. It usually leads to transfers--the very thing that has haunted Lickliter up until maybe this season. Most of all, it sends the message that the Iowa job is undesirable; schools that go around firing any coach that's not producing in a three-year period usually find themselves doing a whole lot of firing. Meanwhile, the Iowa football team has conducted one hire and zero fires in the past 30 years.

Todd Lickliter will be fired if he cannot demonstrate an ability to produce a winning program. His detractors may rest assured of that. However, it can be successfully argued that because of issues beyond his control (returning talent level, unavoidable transfers), he has not had a sufficient opportunity to build a winner. That excuse's shelf life is starting to run out,, though. And by the end of next season, we'll know if days like these--with positive trends and a negative result--have been harbingers of greater success or just merely insufficient plateaus of performance. We won't know until then; to pretend otherwise is to demonstrate nothing more than an intolerable confidence in one's own imagination. Besides, the ambiguity's more interesting than certainty anyway.

*Important note: We have zero reason to believe this would happen. You may freely substitute in "quits basketball," "tears another ACL," "loses arms after being mauled by Kodiak bears on Hubbard Park," or "pulls a Tony Gonzalez and dominates the NFL" without altering any point we were trying to make.

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